For the second time this month, it was standing room only at the historic Putnam Courthouse Tuesday evening for a marathon meeting of the Putnam County Legislature.
Following two hours of heated debate, the Legislature’s Physical Services Committee consisting of Carl Albano of Carmel, Barbara Scuccimarra of Garrison and Joseph Castellano of Southeast approved a lease agreement with Butterfield Realty LLC that will allow the county to rent 6,000 square feet of space at the Lahey Pavilion in Cold Spring for a new senior center. The matter will now be placed on the agenda of next month’s full legislature meeting.
More than 125 people crowded into the second-floor courtroom where division reigned supreme among three groups: Senior citizens pleading for a new center on the western side of the county, a group of construction workers who called on the lawmakers to approve the project in order to create jobs, as well as a loud group of primarily Philipstown and Cold Spring residents who strongly objected to the lease due to its cost.
Chairman Albano stated the revised cost of the project was $1,280,000 to renovate and outfit the center.
Donna Anderson, a senior from Garrison, presented the lawmakers with a petition signed by 370 residents urging the county to “implement our center. The current senior center is simply inadequate.”
Another senior, Shirley Norton, commended the legislators for their “due diligence. I trust you. We must get on with this already.”
Others weren’t as positive, and the comments appeared to spring from the same coordinated attacks that kept the project mired in reviews at the village level for so long. Lourdes Laifer of Cold Spring charged that the lease was “good for the developer and lousy for the taxpayer. The process has been shrouded in secrecy.”
One woman demanded to see a lease.
Albano explained that a lease had been signed. Legislator Kevin Wright charged that a “gap existed in the process since a bonding resolution is needed before a lease is signed.”
The committee in a separate resolution approved a bond resolution for $800,000 for the center which was moved to the Audit Committee for its review next week.
Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino told her colleagues and the large audience: “This will encompass all needed funding for the project.”
But the question over the lease recurred.
Cold Spring Mayor David Merandy demanded to know: “Why can’t we see the lease? Why can’t we get a copy? The process has not been transparent from Day One. We don’t want to derail the center – only understand it.”
Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea agreed that the “issue of a senior center must be resolved but we must negotiate the best lease possible.”
Catcalls emanated from the audience: “Show us the lease!” was heard time and time again.
Laura Hoffman rose to her feet: “I am enraged by the actions of this legislature. It is a disgrace. You are supposed to be working for the community and not the developer.”
Ed Cook of Mahopac, a leader for the Building Trades Union, stated that his rank and file was “in favor of this project. More than 10,000 tradesmen pay taxes in Putnam County. It is imperative that the seniors of western Putnam get their center.”
Another union representative, Tom O’Brien, reminded the audience that the “rank and file union workers will construct a building that we all will be proud of. The job will be completed on budget. The job will be done right the first time.”
Pat Sheehy, Director of the Office for Senior Resources, charged that Putnam’s senior citizens had become “disillusioned.
The seniors want a site constructed at Butterfield. We must trust the legislators for proceeding in the right fashion. If they don’t they will be voted out of office. It’s unfortunate that we lost the Ailes’ donation but we must all come together on this critical issue.”
Sheehy was referring to a donation of $500,000 from the family of Roger Ailes, of Garrison. He withdrew the donation after vehement opposition to the family’s efforts earlier this month. That cost will now be borne by taxpayers.
Questions surrounding the lease continued. Nancy Montgomery, Philipstown deputy supervisor, queried: “Why is this lease so secretive? Why wasn’t it forwarded to Philipstown officials?”
Stephanie Hawkins, another critic of the project and a former trustee, charged that the “lease is not good for the people of Putnam County – all of the people. The legislature is creating a tax abatement for private industry.”
Kathleen Foley chimed in: “Trust must be earned. This has become the most landlord friendly project ever. A lovely and modest facility should be possible.”
Following the heated debate, Albano assured the audience that there was “no secrecy. This is a process. Purchasing the building was never an option. Bond rates are at all time lows. We will bond the difference in cost.”
Legislator Dini LoBue, who sided with those opposed to the lease agreement, charged that the project was “pro-developer. This is a bad deal for the taxpayers.” She received raucous applause.
But Legislator Albano said the county wants to “have a presence on the western side of the county. Our intentions were genuine from the beginning and continue to be so.”